As we go about our business this winter, the business of chopping ice in the water trough when the heater accidentally comes unplugged, tossing flakes of hay over the fence or in the shed with the horses hiding from the wind, pulling my one horse open sleigh across the dry lot with more hay bales to stuff into the slow feed nets, shoveling out the shed when the horses have been holed up for an entire week, Bonnie will sometimes become afraid. I am always watching her and aware of how she is feeling and do my best to honor those feelings by slowing down or waiting for her to settle before I proceed. My two boys have been a huge help to me this winter and they are learning how to be around Bonnie without scaring her. They too are learning when to wait and when they can proceed.
The amazing thing about this is watching Bonnie decide that she isn’t afraid anymore. I love watching her approach the boys and smell their gloves and poke around their pockets a little bit hoping for a cookie. This is something she has never done to anyone but me. She has been quite fearful around other people, always ready to leap away or possibly kick if she felt cornered. Watching how she has become so brave around the big sled, even eating out of it, has been awesome. It’s simply amazing how a horse can become braver and more confident when we slow down and give them the space. I haven’t been doing any “training” at all. I simply go about my business, aware of how Bonnie is feeling and setting her up for success. Sometimes something will have to happen that is beyond my control (we have had some amazing wind storms this winter!) but watching Bonnie go from reactive to calm and responsive has been extremely satisfying.
If she is truly afraid and is going to leave and I simply say, “Good girl” she will choose to stay. She will usually turn around and come back to me, even if it means stepping over something scary! One day I was carrying a large chair over my head. We had just finished an outside photo shoot and were walking back towards the house. Both girls, Bonnie and Sky, were running around the dry lot snorting and warning the boys of the danger… me with a chair on my head! I laughed and called out “Good girl Bonnie” and she immediately turned and trotted over to me! I reached out a hand and she touched it and was calm and quiet. Even with Sky still trotting around snorting. Bonnie followed me down the fence line calm as could be!
During this time I have been thinking about the traditional ways of doing things. When a horse is scared many people will move faster, corner the horse and “show” it that it has no reason to be scared. Which in most cases just cements in the horse’s mind they were right – both the thing and the human are scary. This will often result in a reactive and explosive horse that is now labeled dangerous. My pet peeve is when people corner a horse to catch it and when the horse turns its hind quarters, because it feels the need to protect itself, the human smacks it on the butt with the halter and lead rope. Sigh. The very thing you want the horse to be willing to come to and have put on their face and you are smacking them on the butt with it when they are afraid!? How does this even make sense? Not only that, I want to drive my minis. If they are worried about being smacked whenever someone is behind them- how are they going to be confident with a cart back there?
I am so tired of the traditional way of doing things. Please people… before you assume your horse is being a jerk and is out to harm you, consider that he may just be scared. He may just need you to slow down and allow him to think. She may need you to offer support and comfort instead of pressure and showing her you are the boss.
Let’s try being a leader to our horses, a partner that shows them how to feel calm and confident, someone that knows where the yummiest patches of grass are and can share some quiet time scratching all their itches. Let’s focus on being great partners that work together to find calm, confidence, quiet and contentment. Believe me, love will get you farther than dominance.